Following UFC 152 on Saturday Dana White reveled to MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani that he would "like to see" Alistair Overeem get the first shot against the victor of this December's UFC heavyweight title fight between champion Junior dos Santos and challenger Cain Velasquez. This seems an odd first fight back for a fighter coming off a suspension for elevated levels of testosterone. It would appear a history lesson is in order for those who think Overeem deserves an immediate opportunity to compete for a championship.
When Alistair Overeem began his career in late 1999 he was a lanky light heavyweight. Over the next seven years he amassed a 25-10 record. After a three fight losing streak he decided to go up to heavyweight and began packing on more muscle. Soon he was a hulking behemoth of a man. Overeem notoriously credited these gains to a diet that included plenty of horse meat. Whatever the case may be, the results of his move to heavyweight were hard to argue with. Since his heavyweight debut in September, 2007 Overeem has gone 12-1-1 NC in MMA plus he captured the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix.
It's worth noting that the majority of these wins came overseas where pre-fight drug testing either doesn't take place or isn't as strictly enforced as in the United States. This raised some eyebrows from those who follow the sport closely. Overeem, for his part, persistently maintained he was a clean fighter. It appeared he was telling the truth when he successfully passed a pre-fight drug test before fighting Brett Rogers at a Strikeforce show in May of 2010, at the time his first fight on American soil in three years.
Then in November of 2011 things began to get interesting. Overeem was just a little over a month away from his UFC debut in a number one contender match against former champion Brock Lesnar. On the 17th Overeem was asked by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to submit to an out of competition drug test. The 'Reem reacted to this request the way any fighter would who had nothing to hide: he skipped town after his representative was contacted about the fight. Word about the test came to the Overeem camp at 2:00 PM that day but by 6:00 PM he was on a plane headed for his native Holland.
Overeem claimed he returned to Holland to tend to his mother who was suffering from cancer and that he didn't get word of the NSAC's request until after he departed. For some reason it took Overeem a full six days after the request to provide them with a sample. Once again there was a problem: he submitted a blood test and not the urine test the NSAC requires. A blood test can detect elevated levels of testosterone but can't catch anabolic steroids. Instead of treating Overeem's failure to provide an appropriate sample as a failed test, the NSAC were lenient - some might say lax - and accepted a urine sample he submitted on December 7th. This was a full twenty days after their initial request and enough time for a potential anabolic steroid to have left his system, thus rendering the test result largely inconsequential.
Be that as it may Overeem's urine sample did pass and he was granted a conditional license by the NSAC. One of the conditions was that he would be subject to two random, unannounced tests over the course of 2012.
Overeem went on to beat Lesnar by a devastating first round kick to the liver and in the process helped convince the former UFC heavyweight champion to take an early retirement. With a title fight against current champion Junior dos Santos looming it appeared Overeem had the world in the palm of his gargantuan hand.
Then on March 27th Overeem was given the first of his unannounced drug tests. Following a press conference he, dos Santos, Roy Nelson, and Antonio Silva were all popped with a surprise test by the NSAC. While the other three fighters had no problem complying with the NSAC's request right away, Overeem wasn't so eager. The Demolition Man once again attempted to get the hell out of Dodge and hightailed it out of the building. Hey, it worked once right? Only this time it didn't. NSAC director Keith Kizer demanded Overeem "get his ass back" and submit a urine sample. Once the results came back it was obvious why he was in such a hurry to avoid being tested. Overeem's testosterone to epitestosterone level came in at a ratio fourteen times higher than that of a normal man.
Overeem claimed the elevated level was due to an anti-inflamitory drug laced with testosterone administered to him by Dr. Hector Molina of - wait for it - The Men's Performance Enhancement Clinic. While the performance referred to by the name isn't of an athletic manner, it still begs the question why Overeem - a Dutch fighter - would travel to Dr. Molina's office in Texas to seek treatment for a rib injury. Just what is it that made Molina such an attractive choice as a personal physician for Overeem? It surely couldn't be his past checkered with the illegal prescription of drugs such as morphine, methadone, and oh yeah, anabolic steroids over the internet. Maybe Overeem headed down to Texas because he had a hankering for some good 'ol fashioned horse meat and while he was in the neighborhood asked his buddy Dr. Molina to treat his rib injury? Overeem and Molina must be tight. After all, why else would Overeem not pursue a medical malpractice suit against a doctor whose ill-advised treatment cost him millions of dollars and effectively ruined his reputation? Of course all this is to say nothing of the fact that according to MMAJunkie.com's Dr. Jonny Benjamin "testosterone is never included in [anti-inflammatory] injections for any legitimate purposes.
Given not only the failed test itself but the circus surrounding the NSAC's attempts to test Overeem dating back to November of the previous year it was widely assumed the Demolition Man would receive a suspension of at least a year. He got nine months. It was a lenient sentence compared with others the NSAC has handed out in similar situations, including a 12 month suspension of Nick Diaz after testing positive for marijuana metabolites back in February.
Now Overeem is looking at walking back into the UFC next March straight into a gift wrapped title shot. It will have been fifteen months since his last fight against Brock Lesnar. One could make the argument there isn't any need to punish him further since he's already suffered a significant financial penalty by going more than a year between paydays.
However, there's a difference between not punishing someone and rewarding them. Overeem won his number one contender fight against Brock Lesnar under the shroud of improprieties surrounding his willingness to provide proper test samples. A few months later he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. What message does it send when he returns to the UFC after fifteen months of inactivity due to mistakes on his own part and walks right into a huge payday and a chance to become champion? Shouldn't Overeem have to at least win another fight or two at heavyweight to earn the status of number one contender again?
From the UFC's perspective it makes short term financial sense to give Overeem an immediate title shot. There isn't a lot of depth on top at heavyweight and it would provide them with a money fight at a time when those haven't been easy to come by. From a pure sporting perspective it's ludicrous for Overeem to challenge for a championship after fifteen months of inactivity, but that isn't how the UFC works. They're primarily a business and Overeem in a title fight has the potential to make them a lot of money.
Of course there's also a chance it could end up costing them even more money. What happens if Overeem fails an out of competition test again after the fight has already been signed? The best case scenario is the UFC looks foolish for putting someone with Overeem's history in an immediate title fight and they need to scramble to reorganize yet another card at the last minute.
What would be far worse for their bottom line is if Overeem defeated the winner of the dos Santos/Velasquez match and once again failed a test. The last thing the UFC needs is the bad publicity of their heavyweight champion getting popped for performance enhancing drugs. Also, what would happen to the heavyweight title picture after a new champion failed a post fight test? Imagine a scenario where Chael Sonnen avoided the submission in his first fight against Anderson Silva and won all five rounds. When his test results came back and showed an elevated level of testosterone it would have invalidated his win, devalued the prestige of the title, and - fair or not - done damage to Anderson Silva's legacy. It's a situation where everyone comes out a loser in the end. This is what the UFC are risking by giving Overeem an immediate title shot.
If past is indeed predicate the UFC would be wise to give Alistair Overeem some time to prove his claims of being a clean fighter before giving him a chance to fight for the sport's richest prize. In order for Overeem to back up his assertion that his failed test was a one time aberration, why not enlist VADA to oversee testing for his next couple fights? That way the UFC can be certain he's a reliable commodity before they invest more money promoting him in main events, his opponents will know they are competing on an even playing field, and fans get fights where the best man actually wins.
Then again, maybe that last part is exactly what fighters who turn to PED's are afraid of.
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